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Five social media stuff-ups you need to avoid

Wednesday, 6 March 2013 | By Oliver Milman

feature-dead-tweet-thumbAs we outlined recently, Twitter is the fastest growing social network in the world, while Facebook is still picking up considerable numbers of new users despite seemingly reaching saturation point.


Throw in LinkedIn – despite our blogger Jonathan Weinstock’s doubts over its future – Pinterest and YouTube and there’s a considerable pool of potential customers out there, ready to be reached quickly and cheaply by your start-up.


But beware. Despite, or perhaps because of, their large budgets and hefty staffing pool, large businesses are continually making a hash of their social media.


Here are five cringeworthy recent social media errors by businesses – and how you can avoid following suit:



1. Sluggish response to hoaxes


Just Jeans has around 18,000 ‘likes’ on its Facebook page but risked alienating a good proportion of these in January, when a hoaxer ran riot for 12 hours.


Someone purporting to be from the retailer started abusing various customers, telling one user that she was blacklisted from Just Jeans stores and telling another their comment was “so last year.”


"How rude!!," one customer wrote. "No one seems to be able to do [their] job properly! Just jeans, appalling!"




Belatedly, the real Just Jeans swung into action, deleting the comments, banning the imposter and saying it was “very sorry” for the offence caused.


The lesson here? You need to react quickly to anything that will damage your brand on social media as it can quickly get out of hand. This doesn’t mean 24-hour monitoring – there are other tricks you can use.


“If things are posted in a particular way or using certain words, you can use the Facebook functionality to automatically hide the posts,” Michael Simonetti, founder and managing director of digital agency AndMine, told SmartCompany.


“For example, we worked with Ojay clothing and it got trolled over using fur in their garments, so we created a blacklist of words associated with fur and any words that were particularly aggressive, which saves monitoring overnight.”



2. Cashing in on a disaster


In the wake of the devastating hurricane Sandy that hit the north-east of the US last year, American Apparel decided it was a good time to launch an online offer.


The retailer sent out an ad that offered 20% off for those who may be “bored during the storm.”




The reaction from potential customers on Twitter was less than enthusiastic. Many promised to boycott the store, with one saying: “As if sexualized ads and harassment lawsuits weren't enough for a boycott, @AmericanApparel sent out a "hurricane Sandy sale" mail. Ugh.”


Several large brands have inexplicably provoked offence by linking their offers to natural disasters, riots and other ‘bad news’ items. The lesson is clear – don’t do it.


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3. Absent social media strategy


Coles may have sold $18.3 billion of goods in the six months to December 31, but it appears that all of this cash isn’t enough to buy it a social media strategy.


The company asked Twitter followers to finish the sentence, “in my house it’s a crime not to buy...” back in March. Users responded with negative comments, including remarks accusing the company of putting unfair pressure on local producers.


The next stuff-up came in August, where a negative comment on Coles’ Facebook page received more than 73,000 ‘likes’ and 4,000 comments.


Coles took more than two days to respond to the comment, which criticised the grocery giant for the pressure it puts on dairy farmers with its cheap milk prices.


James Griffin, head of online reputation management business SR7, told SmartCompany while the actual response to the comment was fine, it was the second incident within a few months for Coles.


“I appreciate here the incident was something they perhaps didn’t see coming, and it’s an issue many Australians feel quite strongly about.”


“But I think the comments from the Coles person suggest they didn’t have a plan to deal with what unfolded for them. The numbers alone, 70,000 shares, that’s massive for an Australian issue.”



4. Putting approachability ahead of basic customer service


Is a famous person tweeting about your business? Great! But, wait – what if they are complaining about something?


The negative publicity associated with a customer complaint is manifold when it comes from someone with a large following, as Time Warner Cable found to its cost last year.


Actor Sir Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek fame, vented his fury at the company on Twitter due to the time taken to install cable in his new apartment.




Time Warner Cable replied to Stewart within two minutes, which is pretty good going. Only to be given short shrift:



The next day, perhaps having read a handy guide on the informality of dealing with customers on social media, Time Warner Cable decided to make a rather flippant response to Stewart without actually fixing the problem:




Social media is a great way to interact with potential customers in a less formalised way than your standard sales or customer service call. But don’t forget the basics of fixing the problem before you get jovial with irate followers.



5. Being rude


Finally, as a general rule, it’s best to not to tell your customers to ‘go f*ck yourself’, as one US restaurant decided to do when faced with a complaint: